THE MORNING SKATE
The Rangers folded down the stretch, losing their last five games to hand home-ice advantage for the first-round series to the Devils. Still, history doesn't favor New Jersey. They have met the Rangers three times in the postseason and lost every time, the last time in five games in a second-round series in 1997.
"It's not hard to get up for, that's for sure," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the rivalry. "Times have changed a lot. Our fans were going to New York and it's not as scary as it used to be. But it will be a great battle. Two good teams are going at it."
It already seems like an uphill battle for the Rangers, who are making their first postseason appearance since 1997. They will face a Devils team that has won 11 straight heading into the playoffs and they will have to get over the flu. Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky, Steve Rucchin and Jason Ward missed Thursday's practice because they were all sick, but all are expected to play in Saturday's opener.
Does this mean the Rangers are underdogs? Even with MVP-candidate Jagr?
"They're the big team around here, and you noticed that all year long. Now after three weeks there's a role reversal?" Brodeur told local reporters. "It's hard to buy it, to a certain extent. Because we leaped over them by a point, I don't think it makes us a clear-cut favorite just because of that.
"We know that the league probably wants them to be there. You know, the best player is there; it's the biggest city."
Game 1 is Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
-- ESPN.com news services/The AP
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